SLEEP WELL

In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe. [Psalm 4:8 (NLT)]

tree swallowLast year, in a gated community not too far from us, a woman woke in the middle of the night to see all of the lights on in her house. Since they’d all been turned off before retiring, she knew someone had been there (and possibly still was). After calling 911, she found that her husband’s wallet, their car keys (and car), and $10,000 worth of jewelry were missing. The thief had rifled through their car parked outside and used their garage door opener to access the house. The family decided to install security cameras to deter burglars from striking again.

Recently, a similar thing happened to a Wisconsin couple. They awoke to find their car and thousands of dollars’ worth of electronics stolen. During the night, a man broke into their locked car and used the garage door opener to enter their house. Then, after carefully removing his shoes, he walked through their three-story condo and collected his booty while the homeowners slept. The couple’s security cameras show that, at one point, the thief was less than three feet from the head of the bed they were occupying. The homeowner said that, from now on, he’ll bring in their garage door openers at night and lock the door between the house and garage.

While I’d love to know what it is that allowed those burglary victims to sleep so soundly that they were unaware of doors opening, lights being turned on, and people walking through their homes, I doubt they sleep so soundly now.

We can live in gated communities, triple lock our doors, mount security cameras, keep our garage door openers inside, have a dog, install an alarm and even set up booby traps for burglars as did little Kevin McCallister in Home Alone but no precaution is failsafe. Moreover, while safety measures may provide some security for our worldly goods, they do nothing to safeguard us from the myriad adversities, calamities and tragedies of life. Locked doors and alarm systems may deter burglars but they are useless against things like cancer, Alzheimer’s, betrayal, stroke, financial disaster, debt, depression, divorce, a loved one’s addiction, and death.

As Christians, we are not immune to burglars nor are we exempt from harm, disaster or loss. God’s love for us doesn’t inoculate us against calamity or misfortune any more than a security camera keeps out burglars. Suffering and hardship happen because we live in a fallen world and God offers us no more explanation than He did to Job. Because of God’s providence, however, we know that, ultimately, He has a good purpose for all the dark valleys through which we journey. Nothing passes through our lives that He has not allowed.

After we’ve exercised due caution to prevent intruders in our homes, let us all sleep peacefully tonight, secure in the knowledge that God is our safety and it is in Him that we find rest. May we lie down and sleep soundly, unafraid of what the night may bring because we trust in His power, love and wisdom. (Oh, and be sure not to leave your garage door opener in a car parked outside!)

You can go to bed without fear; you will lie down and sleep soundly. You need not be afraid of sudden disaster or the destruction that comes upon the wicked, for the Lord is your security. He will keep your foot from being caught in a trap. [Proverbs 3:24-26 (NLT)]

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LOT’S CHOICE

The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. [Genesis 12:1-2 (NLT)]

Apple River, IL

When God told Abram (later called Abraham) to leave his native country, his nephew Lot joined him. The two men prospered and, by the time they left Egypt, both families had become wealthy. While we often think that our problems come from not having enough of something, Abram’s and Lot’s problems arose from having too much in the way of livestock. When camped between Bethel and Ai, disputes arose between their herdsmen, probably about water, grazing area and which animals belonged to whose flock. Without enough pasture for both herds, Abram realized that they needed to part to avoid any more disputes. Although God had promised Canaan to him, Abram pointed out there was plenty of land for both families and gave Lot the opportunity to pick whatever territory he desired.

Although Lot should have deferred the first choice to the elder Abram, he looked east at the fertile grassy plains of the Jordan Valley and greedily chose for himself what appeared to be the lushest and best land. Abram, however, chose to live by faith rather than sight. Trusting the Lord who had promised him both land and so many offspring that they couldn’t be counted, he settled in Hebron and immediately built an altar to the Lord. Rather than trusting God, Lot simply trusted what he saw and chose to pitch his tents near Sodom. Then, instead of building an altar, he moved into Sodom. If you remember your Bible stories, you know this was just about the worst decision he could have made. The valley may have looked beautiful but it was rotten to the core. Because of its wickedness, Sodom later was totally destroyed, Lot narrowly escaped the destruction, his wealth was lost, and his wife became a pillar of salt.

Lot said, “I will take,” while Abram said, “I will give!” Selfishly trusting himself and what he saw, Lot ended up with nothing; trusting the Lord, Abram ended up with a whole nation! One looked at the possible while the other counted on God for the impossible. What do we learn? Looks can be deceiving, don’t take the best for ourselves, and trust in God’s promises!

For we live by believing and not by seeing. [2 Corinthians 5:7 (NLT)]

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. [Proverbs 3:5-6 (NLT)]

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CAUGHT IN THE HEADLIGHTS

He walked away, about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him. [Luke 22:41-43 (NLT)]

deer“It never occurred to me,” my friend said, “that I could outlive my wife.” Several years older than his spouse, overweight, diabetic and nearly blind, he always thought she’d be there to care for him. That, however, was before she suffered a stroke, had complications from carotid artery surgery, was diagnosed with cancer, had another surgery, and started a regimen of chemotherapy (all within a few months’ time.) Like a deer caught in the headlights, he was almost frozen in disbelief, bewilderment, and fear.

At some point in time, a “deer in the headlight” moment like that will happen to us all. Disease, disability, adversity and misfortune will slam into us and turn our version of life upside down. I think of a friend who was swindled by his trusted business partner and another one who was betrayed by her husband; neither of them ever envisioned such duplicity. When the young couple was told to expect twins, it never occurred to them that neither child would live to see his second birthday. When a friend’s wife beat cancer, her family never foresaw that, fifteen years later, it would return with such a vengeance that she’d be gone in less than a year. Such scenarios were never pictured by any of these people when asked about their hopes and dreams.

Although we are the main character in our life story, we eventually realize that we aren’t writing the script—God is the author and we don’t get consulting or editing privileges. We can’t choose the setting, rewrite the parts we dislike, dictate the ending, or decide the length of the tale. As Christians, we know that the play’s sequel will take place in God’s presence in heaven, where there will be no death, pain, crying or mourning. Nevertheless, sometimes that knowledge is of little consolation as we (or those we love) struggle to make it through the present act. All we can do is trust that our loving God will give His children the courage and strength necessary to get through it all, one day at a time.

Father, some of us are suffering and others of us are crying for those who are in the midst of difficult circumstances. If it is at all possible, please take away their cup of suffering. If not, help us all to accept what seems so unacceptable and to understand what seems so unreasonable. Strengthen our faith with trust and let us see hope on the horizon.

The truth is, in this world it’s a 100 percent guarantee that we will suffer. But at the same time, Jesus Christ is 100 percent certain to meet us, encourage us, comfort us, grace us with strength and perseverance, and yes, even restore joy in our lives. Your Savior is 100 percent certain to be with you through every challenge. [Joni Eareckson Tada]

And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age. [Matthew 28:20b (NLT)]

Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. [Romans 12:12 (NLT)]

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THE BEST TIME TO MEET HIM

I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. [John 11:25-26 (NLT)]

In commenting about the unexpected death of a young man, the pastor said, “The best time to meet God is when you’re right with God!” For a good part of his brief life, the young man about whom he was speaking had been a troubled unbeliever but, shortly before his death, he came to know Christ. While he will be missed by his grieving family and friends, they can find comfort in knowing his final destination. Since they, too, are believers, they know they will see him again in the future.

The pastor’s comment made me remember a sympathy note written by C.S. Lewis in 1944 to the wife of fellow professor at Oxford. After expressing how much he missed the man, Lewis told the new widow how deeply the professor’s funeral had affected him. Mentioning the many times he’d heard the same service read for non-believers, he admitted to a sense of relief at hearing those same words said for a true man of faith: “a man not unworthy of the service.” Lewis admitted that, “In some queer way it enormously strengthened my faith, and before we filed out of chapel I really felt…a kind of joy—a feeling that all was well, just as well as it could be.” Understanding that the best time to meet God is when you’re right with God, Lewis knew the professor had been welcomed home by his Father in Heaven.

I think of a friend, whose husband is nearing the end of his life.  As non-believers, she knows a religious service would be hypocritical and has been pondering what sort of funeral she might have for her husband when the time comes. For a non-believer, there is little comfort in hearing that Jesus is the resurrection and the life and His believers will never die or that our bodies “buried in brokenness…will be raised in glory.” Scripture’s words of assurance that Jesus has prepared a place for us in His Father’s house or that nothing can separate us from Christ’s love are meaningless to someone who doesn’t know Jesus.

Believers and non-believers alike experience grief but it was the faith C.S. Lewis shared with his fellow professor that allowed him to experience joy at his friend’s funeral. The words of a traditional Christian funeral/celebration of life service are only comforting to a believer if the dearly departed was a believer.

When my friend’s husband dies, I don’t know how she will mark his passing, but it won’t be with words of Scripture, prayers, psalms, or hymns. When that day comes, I will choose my words of sympathy carefully; they probably will be something innocuous about hoping her memories bring her comfort and solace. (Her lack of faith certainly won’t!) No matter how nice the memorial program or beautiful the music, I will not feel a kind of joy as I depart because I know that the best time to meet God is not when you deny His existence. The best time to meet God is when you’re good with Him!

Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. [1 Corinthians 15:43-44 (NLT)]

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ASK

And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. [Matthew 6:7-8 (RSV)]

Our Father, whose predominant residence pattern is widely perceived as being in an exo-atmospheric environment, your name shall be treated, as a matter of course, in a reverential demeanor appropriate to existing protocol guidelines. It is to be hoped that, as an optimal result of the ongoing situational development, your form of governmental institution may be, in accordance with the appropriate procedures, finalized within the foreseeable future, in forms applicable to both bilateral and multilateral fora. [Anonymous]

climbing asterThese are the first lines of the Lord’s Prayer as if they were written by a lawyer and, having recently met with our attorney to update some documents, I don’t think they’re much of an exaggeration. With all of their circumlocution, it’s difficult to know what lawyers actually mean. They use vague abstract nouns rather than concrete ones and seem to go around a subject rather than straight through it. Why can’t they use straightforward language and directly say what they mean?

While our prayers probably are not as convoluted as the above version of the Lord’s Prayer, they frequently are as indirect and vague. Of course, the lawyer uses all of that language out of caution. He’s writing so that his words can’t be misconstrued: so that anyone seeking another meaning to his words can’t find it. God, however, is not an adversary who is trying to trap us into saying something we don’t mean or attempting to find a loophole in our prayers. In fact, He already knows what we need before we say it. Nevertheless, He’s waiting to hear it from us.

When Jesus was leaving Jericho, two blind beggars called out to Him with a rather ambiguous request: “Have mercy on us!” Did they want forgiveness, food, clothing,  or money? Any of those would have been acts of mercy. Surely Jesus knew what they really wanted but He responded by asking them, “What do you want me to do for you?” Only then were they direct and asked for what they really wanted: to see! It was not until they clearly asked that Jesus acted and they received sight.

We have been told to ask before we receive. Could it be that God answers our prayers based on our requests? Jesus promised that, if we ask for bread, we won’t get a stone and, if we ask for a fish, we won’t get a serpent. Unsaid, but certainly implied, is that, if we fail to ask for that bread or fish, we won’t get either one! Could receiving depend upon asking? Could there be blessings He has for us that we haven’t received simply because we never asked?

Like lawyers, perhaps we err on the side of caution: the less specific our prayers, the less likely it is that we’ll be disappointed. Vague prayers, however, don’t exhibit faith. If someone listened to our prayers, would they know what we mean or are our prayers filled with cautious language and ambiguous requests? I think of a child’s prayers and the long list of “God blesses” usually found at their end. Are our prayers as vague? How do we want God to bless those on our prayer list? What are their specific needs? What are ours? We don’t need a lot of words to be direct and specific with God. If Jesus were passing by right now, what would we call out to Him? What would we ask?

And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith. [Matthew 21:22 (RSV)]

Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? [Matthew 7:7-9 (RSV)]

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COINCIDENCE OR PRAYER?

We are confident that God listens to us if we ask for anything that has his approval. We know that he listens to our requests. So we know that we already have what we ask him for. [1 John 5:14-15 (GW)]

great egretRecently, the Sinner’s Shack Gentlemen’s Club wanted to open an establishment in our small Midwest community. It’s a rather conservative town and, since there’s nothing gentlemanly about the goings on in such an establishment, everyone was up in arms about it. When the Holier Than Thou Evangelical Church started a campaign to halt the tawdry business from locating in town, prayer sessions were held three times a day and the City Council was inundated with letters and calls of protests. Unfortunately, in spite of the prayers and complaints, proper zoning was attained and construction on the Sinner’s Shack began. Just a day before its grand opening, however, lightning struck the new building and it burned completely to the ground!

The Holier Than Thous were rather smug and self-righteous about the fire until Honey Bunn, the owner of the strip club, filed suit again the church, its pastor, and the entire congregation on the grounds that they were “ultimately responsible for the demise of the building and business, either through direct or indirect divine actions or means.” The Holier Than Thous replied to the court by vociferously denying any and all responsibility for the lightning and the building’s loss.

As the judge read through the plaintiff’s complaint and the church’s reply, he commented, “I have no idea how I will be able to decide this case. I have a staunch sinner who appears to believe in the power of prayer and an entire congregation of Christians who don’t!”

Of course, this is just a bit silly fiction, but it poses some interesting questions about our belief in the power of prayer. Would we have joined in those prayer sessions or would we have considered the issue a lost cause? If we’d attended those prayer sessions, would we have gone out of a sense of duty or because we truly believed our prayers could make a difference? Do we ever pray without the confidence that our prayers are heard? Do we pray without believing in the power of our prayers? When our prayers are answered, as they were in the story, are we surprised? Instead of crediting it to prayer, do we chalk it up to coincidence or good luck?

When we pray; we’d better believe that prayer works, or it won’t. Effective prayers require trusting in a God who is faithful in His promises to us. We need confidence that God is both willing and able to act on our behalf to advance His kingdom. I know it’s difficult at times not to attribute God’s answers to coincidence but, as for me, I’m going to chalk one up for God!

Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous. [Albert Einstein]

When you ask for something, don’t have any doubts. A person who has doubts is like a wave that is blown by the wind and tossed by the sea. A person who has doubts shouldn’t expect to receive anything from the Lord. A person who has doubts is thinking about two different things at the same time and can’t make up his mind about anything. [James 1:6-8 (GW)]

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